Archive | April, 2010

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

The Dichotomy of a Park

26 Apr

First off,  sorry for the delay in between posts. I really apologize for the lag. I am going to more than make it up to you today with an information packed double post that you don’t want to skip. 

Moving forward, let’s continue with hot tips for summer travel in America’s National Parks. Last time out we talked about the importance of research and guidebooks. Let’s follow-up on that thread and focus on visiting parts of the park that receive less traffic. 

 Before we get into this,  I want to define the word “parts” for you – so you can fully understand what exactly I am talking about. Most of the larger national parks have different areas within the park that offer different visitor services. These services may or may not include things like: gas, convenience stores, lodging, restaurants, a ranger station, visitor center, campgrounds, gift shops, extra parking, trailheads, and even a museum or art gallery.  Some of these areas or “parts” are larger than small towns, while others just meet the bare bone, minimum requirements to be considered; that’s basically an official designation on a park map, usually because it is near a featured geologic or historical attraction. 

This is my focus for our conversation today: specifically seeking out and visiting some of these lesser known “parts” of America’s parks. This sounds like a great idea, right? It sure is because there are some real gems out there. However, before we get too far into this,  I want to touch upon roadblocks or causes for concern when trying to visit these areas. 

This is a going to be a complete and exhaustive list and for the sake of time, we’ll get started on this today and finish up sometime later this week the good Lord willing. This topic is addressed in a question and answer format to help you understand potential issues you may encounter and how to resolve them. These are factors you should always consider before making any travel plans… 

Problem:  How do I deal with weather, climate, and temperatures at certain times of the year? 

Answer:  When dealing with huge tracts of wilderness, you also will have extremes in temperature ranges. This is normally because of the difference in elevation. Make sure you know the elevation of the “part” you are visiting and the best time of the year to go there. You can find elevation levels on any park topographic map and probably somewhere on the Internet as well. 

 For example, one area of the park may be at 7,000 ft elevation, while another is at 3,000 ft. That difference in elevation represents anywhere 12 – 15 degrees in temperature. Again, a little research goes a long ways. If you get stuck – your best bet is to call the ranger station in that “part” and point-blank ask them when is the best time of the year to visit and find out your information that way. 

Problem:  What other seasonal considerations are there? 

Answer: Temperature is obviously the biggest, but there are several other major factors as well. Bugs are another huge consideration. Depending on the year, most of the high altitude parks have both mosquitos and biting flies and they can be just brutal. The months of June and July are when they are most active. This is a time when many high altitude areas are still drying out and it is especially bad near lakes and large swaths of melting snow. By the middle of August, the bugs are usually gone in most places, but make sure you call ahead because every year is different.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic answers for you when it comes to solving this problem. Just the usual advice: wear long sleeves, gloves, a mosquito head net, DEET, and try to avoid areas where they are high in intensity and concentration.  Please make sure you are aware of the potential circumstances of your visit and prepare accordingly. Because these little pests can severely affect your overall enjoyment level of your trip. 

A graphic reminder not to overlook mosquitos when visiting the parks - that's part of my leg! Ouch!

 

Another more pleasant consideration are wildflowers. Again, this all goes back to elevation and also latitude to some degree. Wildflowers bloom across the board in the spring and summer throughout North America varying from April in Yosemite Valley up to the beginning of August in areas like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Also, some areas of the park you are visiting might have prolific wildflower blooms while another area doesn’t have any. I found some park’s actually have online forums dedicated to people’s recent hiking and trip experiences and you can get some great information on them for this type of research. It is probably even more reliable than calling the ranger station as sometimes the information you get from them can be dated a week or two weeks and is simply not accurate. 

A final consideration is water levels. This is where you really have to dig deep for research. Generally speaking, water levels decrease as the summer drags on high in the mountains. I am talking about streams, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes…just about everything except the ocean. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing – it just depends on where you are.   To be continued…

Research Works Wonders

21 Apr

Here is another sure fire way to improve your time at the parks, especially during peak crowds. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but do some research. What’s the best place to start? Drum roll please…it’s the Internet, of course. Below are few simple ways to use it to your advantage when planning a trip:

1) Buy a guidebook and/or map of the park online. The best place to find these is on Amazon.com and this is a great place to start planning. Please make sure you read your guidebook thoroughly. These books are not written and designed to be entertaining and it’s very easy to overlook key information by giving it the old once over.

2) Do an exhaustive google search for information you find in your guidebook. This will further help you find the information you need in order to make important decisions about your trip. I use it specifically to look for images of places off the beaten path. They don’t have to be fine art photos, I just want to get an idea of the look of the landscape. Other than pictures, you’ll find all kinds of good information on sites you might not have considered like You Tube, Flickr, etc.

3) Experiment with Google Earth. This is just another way to prepare and equip yourself with knowledge to maximize your time in the park. You can literally study the landscape from above.

I hope you find this blog post useful and in couple days I’ll continue on this topic. Thanks for stopping in.

Tips for Peak Season Travel in Our National Parks

20 Apr

Today, we’ll continue exploring ways to avoid the crowds while visiting the parks during peak season. To reiterate, so far, we’ve discussed:

• Avoiding holiday weekends
• Arriving earlier in the week as opposed to staying later
• Making all your reservations at least 3 months in advance
• Visiting less popular parks
• Vacationing after Labor Day

Another sure way to avoid the crowds is to utilize the first three hours in the morning and the last two hours before sunset. Get up, get out, and get going early! Even the most popular trails aren’t busy at time of day. Want to experience the geyser basins at Yellowstone without the crowds? Then go at 7am. I can assure you that you won’t regret it. If you do see people at this time, they are probably landscape and nature photographers.

Let me give you a quick example, a few years back I was fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park on Easter weekend. What I saw there I just wasn’t prepared for. The crowds were so enormous, I couldn’t get a parking spot inside the park. The town of Springdale, which sits just outside park HQ, was basically one large traffic jam. The shuttle buses were overflowing with tourists. The rangers estimated the park saw a quarter of a million visitors over that Saturday and Sunday alone.

During that day, I tackled what is arguably the park’s most famous and daunting hike, Angel’s Landing. For those of you who haven’t made the trek, let me just say this hike isn’t for beginners and can be extremely dangerous, in a few spots there are thousand foot drops. Well, on that particular day, there were literally hundreds of people on that trail. I honestly don’t know the mountains could have accommodated many more.

Fast forward a year or two and I am blessed to visit during June, certainly one of the most busy months of the year. My friend and I did the hike closer to sunset that day, and to our amazement there was practically no one on it. My point is this: utilize your time wisely even if it means getting up extra early or staying out late.

sunset is the best time to visit Angel's Landing

Take a nap during the day if you must, eat at off-peak hours, take a scenic drive over lunch, and whatever you do make sure you utilize “golden hours” as we landscape photographers call them. Tomorrow, I’ll continue on this subject we another invaluable tip on how to maximize your stay while visiting the parks.

Seasons Part 2

17 Apr

3)  Make your reservations early. If you are staying in a hotel, campground, or even planning  a backpacking trip than this is sound advice. Your best bet is 3 to 4 months in advance for campgrounds and backpacking; for premium lodging within the park, I would recommend a year in advance.

4) Make the journey to some of the less visited parks instead. These parks offer just about the same quality in scenery as the heavy hitters, but are usually a little harder to get to. However, what you lose in driving times you more than can make up for it in solitude. These include: Great Basin National Park in Nevada, Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

5) Take your vacation after Labor Day. While Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer for most people, it also means the kids are back in school and crowds at the parks start to die down. What’s even better is the weather during this time is often the best of the year. For instance, at Yellowstone National Park September is considered the “golden month” because the weather is so prime. Of course, it can turn on a dime, but many days high are still in the mid 70’s. Perfection! We’ll re-visit this topic during my next post either Monday or Tuesday – so come back now ya hear!

This is an example of Yellowstone in September. Gorgeous colors, perfect weather, and lots of solitude. You are looking at a small section of Shoshone Lake. This lake is the largest backcountry lake in the United States. Meaning there are no roads leading to it, so  no vehicles and no motorized boats either. Its over a 40 mile hike around the lake, which is over 200 feet deep in parts. Here Joyce is looking south across the lake towards the Bridger – Teton National Forest.

Seasons

15 Apr

 

When and where to go the parks?

Summertime is by far the most popular season for visiting the national parks. Quite simply, the high altitude parks in the Western United States as well as Alaska, are far too cold for the average person to explore during the winter.  Additionally, many of them have impassable roads during this time. That’s doesn’t mean they are not open though. You can snowmobile in Yellowstone or snowshoe and cross-country ski  in Yosemite.  If you have the means and the perseverance you can make an incredible vacation during the winter at our nation’s parks.

Excluding the Florida Everglades, winter is generally the least popular time for the visiting the parks. That brings me to the summer time. The crowds can get really crazy, especially on the holiday weekends of: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and to a lesser extent, Labor Day.

Which parks get the most crowds during that time? For the most part, you name and it’s crowded.  All the high altitude Western heavyweights are going to be packed: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Teton just to name a few. 

Additionally, even though day time highs will soar to over 100 degrees, all the parks in Utah will have droves of people: from Zion in the west to Arches near Moab in the eastern part of the state. Speaking of, Bryce Canyon and Arches are the two smallest national parks in the state and can sometimes get the biggest crowds.  

So, if you are planning a summertime visit, what’s the best strategy?  Well, you’ve got a few options. I’ll try not to state too much of the obvious here:

Traveling Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Peak Season Visit to the Parks

1) Avoid holiday weekends all together. If you are going to do the touristy stuff: from hotels, to day hikes and campgrounds, there is going to be a confluence of people almost everywhere you turn. 

2) If the only time you can make it is on a holiday weekend get your reservations early and try to arrive either the Wednesday or Thursday before if possible. In these types of circumstances, it is always better to arrive early and depart early than come in late and stay later.  A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of nights (Wednesday and Thursday)  in Yosemite during the week leading up to Memorial Day. While the campgrounds were packed and there were some decent sized crowds on the most popular trails, it wasn’t too crowded considering the circumstances.

I am going to stop here today & we’ll re-visit this topic tomorrow with more information about how to avoid the crowds during peak tourist. Until next time, have a wonderful night!

My First Real Blog Post to Commerate My Website

13 Apr

Thanks to everyone who helped contribute to making my website a reality. I am not going to names, but I am really very appreciative everyone’s assistance. I’ve given a good deal thought as to how I am going to spend my time blogging, and decided I want to start with an extended thread on touring America’s National Parks. Although I haven’t had the privilege of visiting all our parks, I have been very fortunate to spend time in quite a few of them.

Depending on when and which park you visit, a trip can be overwhelming in many different ways. There is much to consider. How do you want to spend your time while in the park? What kind of activities are you interested in? What kind of budget are you working with? What time of the year do you plan on going? How much time do you have? The list goes on and on and on…

If you haven’t spent a lot of time in these parks, consider this. No matter which park you visit and when, one thing is for sure – you’ll do quite a bit of driving (unless you take a tour bus). So I am going to focus a lot on logistics. Which routes to go on and what to see along the way.  I am also going to write extensively on what to do when visiting these parks.

 Hopefully, I can provide you with some beneficial information and travel tips on these topics. Ideally, I want to update the blog three times a week, with my next post being Thursday, April 15th.  I’ll definitely be posting pictures here as well. I am not sure how to end this so I am just going to say goodnight and God Bless!

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